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Usability Report

Due Date: Thursday, November 6th

Submission Name: <usabilityreport> (site folder)


The U.S. government’s usability website defines usability as follows: “In general, usability refers to how well users can learn and use a product to achieve their goals and how satisfied they are with that process.” As users of numerous websites, we constantly make split-second judgments about whether or not sites are “usable.” In other words, we quickly decide whether a site helps or hinders our ability to complete a specific task. We tend to return often to sites that are easy to navigate, while we stop visiting sites that are overly confusing or unhelpful.

For this assignment, you will select a website, test its usability, and write a report to the owner/operator of the site making recommendations for improvement. Your report to the client will also contain re-coded pages (or, if this is not possible, mockups of redesigned pages) that demonstrate the changes you are proposing.

You may choose to work alone or in pairs on this assignment.

Assignment Details

Selecting a Website. The first important decision you’ll make on this project is choosing a site to test. As you consider candidates for testing, try to follow the Goldilocks principle: look for a site that’s not too big and not too small, but just right. It’s hard to test a site that has only two pages, and it’s even harder to test a site that has 15,000 pages. Because this assignment focuses on improving the usability of a website, you should select a site that you feel has room for improvement. Likewise, because usability tests work best when subjects are seeing the site for the first time, you should select a site that likely will be unfamiliar to your test subjects (your friends, family, neighbors, etc.). Translation: Don’t choose Google, Amazon.com, eBay, etc. If you already have a site in mind for the final client project, you may want to use that site for this project, too. If you would like to do this, please check with Quinn to make sure that the site you have in mind will work for both projects.

Developing a Usability Test. Once you have selected a site, you can begin to develop a usability testing protocol. For the most part, we will follow the process outlined on Usability.gov. This process includes writing a test plan, developing personas, creating scenarios, piloting the test, and refining the test. We will discuss each of these steps in greater detail in class.

Conducting the Test. Once your plan is ready and Quinn has approved it, you can begin conducting your tests. Again, we will follow the recommendations found on Usability.gov and in Krug’s Don’t Make Me Think, and we will use Silverback, a software program designed for usabilty testing, to record the actual tests. You will conduct your test with 6-8 subjects, then watch and analyze the recordings. You may reserve rooms on the 4th floor of Ross Hall by using the English Department’s reservation system.

Creating Prototypes. Based on the results of your usability tests, you will develop at least two prototypes of changes to the site you are testing. For example, you might propose a new navigation menu, or a repositioned search box. Ideally, your prototypes should function as regular (X)HTML pages, but depending on the complexity of your site (or the nature of your recommendations), your prototypes may be mockups in Photoshop.

Writing the Report. Finally, you will write a substantive report detailing the results of your test and making recommendations for improvement. Your report should be written in memo/letter format, directly to the client (whether real or imaginary). The report should describe the process you used to test the site, present your findings, and link to your redesigned prototypes. The report should conclude by making recommendations for improvments to the site.

Submitting Your Project. When your project is complete, upload it to YOURNETID.public.iastate.edu/usabilityreport/ with the report file renamed as “index.html”. The report should link to your redesigned prototypes, so your client can view the report entirely online. You should also create a zipped file (named “allfiles.zip”) containing your videoes, drafts of your plan, etc., and upload it to the same directory.

Evaluation Criteria

Your grade on this assignment will be determined by your performance on the following criteria:

  • Project Scope and Plan–Did you select a site of reasonable size and scope? Did you submit copies of your proposal and your usability protocol to Quinn? Was your plan “do-able,” or was it too timid or too ambitious?
  • Evidence of Testing–Does your final project file contain video files of usability tests conducted using Silverback? Do these videos show that you conducted your tests in a professional manner, following the guidelines discussed in class?
  • Page Prototypes–Do your page prototypes accurately reflect the suggestions made by your test subjects? Do the prototypes represent an improvement in usability compared to the original site design?
  • Quality of Writing–How well does your report communicate your activities and findings to the owner of the site? Is the report structured logically? Does it incorporate screenshots of the site? Does it make clear recommendations for usability improvements? Does the report adhere to the conventions of standard written English?